Living with autoimmune arthritis: Tips for managing symptoms and improving quality of life
Health experts spill the beans on tips for managing autoimmune arthritis symptoms and improving quality of life
Auto-immune arthritis occurs when the immune system goes into disarray and attacks normal joints, causing pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints and the most common type of autoimmune arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis; others being psoriatic arthritis, spondyloarthropathies, etc. These are chronic conditions, which according to health experts can be managed very well with medications, exercise and self-management techniques.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Chethana D, Consultant – Rheumatology at Aster CMI Hospital in Bengaluru, shared, “People with arthritis can lead a normal life with treatment and the right attitude towards life. Delay in diagnosis and treatment will cause disabling and deforming arthritis. For people with arthritis, it may take longer to complete simple tasks compared to their peers. They may have to make changes to their lifestyle and adapt different ways to finish their chores and manage their condition better. They will certainly benefit from little support and understanding from family and friends.”
Tips for managing symptoms:
Dr Chethana D advised, “It is important to take the prescribed medications promptly to keep symptoms at bay and prevent flare-ups of arthritis. Patients usually have significant early morning joint stiffness, which can slow them down. Taking a hot shower, twice a day, if possible, significantly eases the stiffness. While travelling, carrying light baggage is advisable, as carrying weight can worsen an already painful wrist or shoulder. The occasional use of simple analgesics is advisable. If symptoms persist, one should seek advice promptly from their healthcare provider.”
Bringing his expertise to the same, Dr Balakrishna GK, Senior Consultant - Internal Medicine at BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital in Bengaluru, said, “Arthritis is a medical condition that affects the joints, causing inflammation and discomfort. There are various types of arthritis, all of which can lead to joint-related symptoms such as pain, stiffness, redness, swelling, tenderness, and warmth around the affected joint(s). These symptoms range in severity and significantly impact a person's daily life. Autoimmune arthritis refers to arthritis types in which a person’s immune system attacks their own body. The most common types are rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and psoriatic arthritis (PsA).”
Suggesting steps to manage arthritis, he insisted that incorporating the following tips into your daily life can effectively manage arthritis -
1. Get regular exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity can reduce stiffness in your joints and improve your range of motion. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. This can be achieved by dedicating approximately 22 minutes to movement every day. Opt for low-impact activities like walking, swimming, or water aerobics, which provide exercise without excessive pressure on your joints.
2. Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing arthritis and exacerbates arthritis pain. Losing weight can relieve pressure on your joints, thereby reducing discomfort. Consult your healthcare provider to determine a suitable target weight for you.
3. Practice proper posture: Whether you're dealing with arthritis in your hands or knees, paying attention to your posture can make a difference. Sitting and standing with the correct posture can alleviate pressure on your joints and alleviate discomfort. If you’re unsure about correct posture, consider working with a physical therapist to develop good habits.
4. Quit smoking: Smoking harms the bones, joints, and connective tissues, and it contributes to complications in rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have shown that women with rheumatoid arthritis who smoke experience more severe symptoms and joint damage compared to non-smokers. If you smoke, discuss cessation strategies with your healthcare provider.
5. Balance rest and activity: Finding a balance between activity and rest is essential when managing arthritis. Aim to be physically active every day but listen to your body’s signals. If you feel like you're pushing your limits too much, take a break and rest.
6. Take medications as prescribed: Treating arthritis may involve oral and topical medications, such as anti-inflammatories and pain relievers, to alleviate discomfort. For individuals with rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis, a healthcare provider may recommend biologics, which target the body's immune system response.
7. Manage stress: Arthritis not only affects you physically but can also impact your mental and emotional well-being. To reduce stress associated with arthritis, find relaxation strategies that work for you. These may include meditation, yoga, engaging in hobbies like sewing, or enjoying activities such as birdwatching. Find something that brings you joy and helps you relax.
8. Consider physical therapy: Both heat and cold can provide relief for joint pain. Applying heat briefly using a heating pad or taking a hot bath can temporarily alleviate pain. Use cold treatments, such as ice packs, when you've been physically active and feel sore as a result.
9. Embrace a healthy diet: Pay attention to your dietary choices and focus on foods known to fight inflammation. The Arthritis Foundation suggests increasing your consumption of soy, extra-virgin olive oil, cherries, low-fat dairy products, broccoli, green tea, citrus fruits, whole grains, beans, garlic, and omega-3-rich fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna. These foods are particularly beneficial for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis.
10. Seek emotional outlets: Arthritis not only affects the body but also takes a toll on the mind. Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends and family who make you feel comfortable.. Additionally, consider talking to a therapist who can provide further guidance and support. Taking care of your mental well-being can contribute to alleviating both the physical and emotional pain associated with arthritis.
Tips to improve quality of life:
Dr Chethana D recommended, “Eating a healthy, balanced diet is required for the overall improvement of arthritis. Nutritional deficiencies can further worsen muscle wasting, cause fatigue, and increase the incidence of medication-related side effects. Exercise is an effective way to relieve pain, improve mood, function and sleep, improve bone health and keep weight under control. It will also help to manage diabetes and hypertension better if they are present. Stretches and yoga improve flexibility and may ease pain. Low-impact exercises like walking, cycling, and swimming are good choices. Weight loss helps reduce joint stress and improves physical function. Quitting smoking, keeping alcohol to a minimum, and getting enough sleep are all clever things to do. Finally, reaching out to patient support groups on social media can make you feel less isolated and further improve your sense of well-being.”
By implementing these tips, you can effectively manage your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life while living with autoimmune arthritis. Remember to consult with your healthcare provider for personalised advice and guidance tailored to your specific condition.